To accommodate students’ comfort and varied learning styles, schools may provide alternative types of seating.
Mike Kennedy | Jun 01, 2016 American School & University
And it wasn’t unheard of for a posture-makes-perfect teacher to help bring about an upright sitting position by putting a yardstick down the back of a student’s shirt.
This era may still exist in some classrooms and schoolhouses, but most modern educators have come to realize that students learn in many different ways. They recognize that fidgeting and restlessness is a feature, not a bug, in the makeup of most young students.
Some students may do fine sitting passively in a straightback chair for hours at a time, but plenty of others need a little more variety and movement to stay on task. And as teaching strategies gravitate toward a greater focus on handson and interactive student involvement, classrooms benefit from active seating choices that accommodate or even encourage movement.
Many students have come to expect flexible, easily configurable seating arrangements in their classrooms, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Learning Spaces of seating considerations at Buffalo State, State University of New York.
“Movability and maneuverability of seating is valued by 21stcentury students because it facilitates the ability to work in groups or teams, which is becoming more common within the classroom,” say the study’s authors, Eugene Harvey and Melaine Kenyon. “When seating configurations need to be altered within class, students may expect inherently that the classroom environment, especially seating, will be moldable to the task or purpose at hand.”
In evaluating various seating options for classrooms at the university, the study found that students rated fixed, tiered seating and tabletarm chairs the lowest.
“The traditional tabletarm chairs and fixed, tiered seating seem less than comfortable,” the study says. “The physical sitting space for these seats is limiting for people of aboveaverage heights or girths, and not only is this uncomfortable physically, but also socially as well, resulting in feelings of awkwardness, irritability or embarrassment.”
Schools and universities may supplement or replace traditional desks and chairs with seating that accommodates greater flexibility and comfort. Many of these new furniture pieces are especially beneficial for students with special needs such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism, but they also have value for students in general. Some examples:
- Wobble cushions. Also called stability cushions or wiggle cushions, these items can be used on top of a seat or on the floor. The cushions are inflated, but have enough give in them so that students have to change their positions frequently to stay balanced. By enabling students to fidget and wiggle in their seats, the cushions help them burn off their excess energy without disrupting the class and focus on their schoolwork. Some cushions are wedgeshaped so that a student using one sits at an angle that results in better posture and better focus.
- Wobble chairs. These provide benefits similar to cushions, but are attached to legs or bases, so aren’t as mobile as cushions.
- Exercise balls. Used in fitness facilities to strengthen muscles, the balls (also called therapy, yoga or balance balls) have proven to be effective in classrooms. Students are able to move while sitting on exercise balls, and this results in better concentration and performance.
- Beanbag chairs. These provide a comfortable spot for students to read silently, listen to a lesson using headphones or complete other independent activities. They also are lightweight and can be moved easily in a classroom.
- Seating with wheels and swivels. These chairs enable students to move and twist to stay active while remaining seated. The mobility of the chairs also makes it easier for a classroom to accommodate different styles of learning.
- Standing desks. Students can break up the monotony of sitting throughout the school day by using a standing desk. Giving the students an opportunity to stand for at least some of their class time helps combat the sedentary habits of students, keeps them alert, and may improve their academic performance.
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